Will the Du Drop Inn hang around?

Published 12:05 pm Sunday, March 1, 2009

A wintry blast blew through the door as the lunchtime crowd drifted by twos and threes into the Du Drop Inn in New Richland. The warmth of the atmosphere belied the frigid December day as the customers filtered in to take a seat at their favorite booths or tables.

Waitress Adrienne Kormann stood behind the counter, ready to help customers shed the winter chill with a cup of hot coffee, followed by a tasty meal served up from the cafe’s busy kitchen.

Joyce Hanson, owner of the restaurant, took the orders coming in from Kormann and made sure the meals got out to the hungry customers in the fast and friendly manner that folks around here have come to expect.

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Hanson has worked at the cafe for the past 30 years, and bought the business 10 years ago. An Albert Lea native, she moved to New Richland when her husband, Merven, got a job driving truck for a local plastics manufacturer here in 1967. The Hanson’s have raised their family here and found themselves at the social center of this farming community in southern Waseca County.

The long hours have blended into even longer years and a realtor’s for-sale sign sits propped in the window of the longtime local institution. Health problems will soon force Joyce Hanson out of her lifetime of work serving the community and it’s surrounding farms.

Hanson opens the cafe at 6 a.m. each weekday, and frequently finds customers waiting for her. The early breakfast crowd is serious about their morning feast.

“If we get a heavy snowfall, and I’m not there by opening time, someone will come and get me,” Hanson said.

The business has changed over the years. The farmers and ag-related workers keep coming in on a regular basis, but there have been new challenges to face. A new restaurant opened in town recently, stealing away customers. Some are only recently returning. New Richland is home to New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School, and until recently, students searching for some variety to the usual cafeteria fare came in to the cafe in droves. But no more. The school campus is locked down during the school day.

“Some of the kids were running all over town during lunch hour and I guess they felt they had to tighten the rules. It’s too bad, really. We loved having the kids come in,” Hanson said.

The cafe is not the only business in town with a for-sale sign in the window. As other businesses close, there is less traffic downtown to help keep the cafe afloat.

Business picks up in the spring as farmers call for take-out orders to save time during the busy planting season. Construction and utility crews come in during the summer months. The harvest sees take-out orders spike as farmers race the clock to get their crop in, while keeping an eye on autumn’s fickle weather.

Still, Hanson worries about the future of her business and the small town she has come to love. Business seems to be going downhill, and she is concerned that a declining population base will hurt area business, despite the recent boom in some farm prices.

“I like to think it will all be OK, that it’s just part of the economic downturn. But I don’t know,” Hanson said.

Kormann has also seen the ups and downs of the local restaurant business.

She was the owner of Jerry’s Inn for 18 years until it burned down. She has worked at the Du Drop Inn for the past two years, and says meeting and greeting her customers is what keeps her happy on the job.

“I love to meet and visit with people,” she said. “That’s the attraction for me. I’m a people person.”